We all dream of finding the perfect home. We obsess over the number of bedrooms, being close to good schools, and the possibility of finally having a home office. But, if you find you’ve moved next door to a neighbor from hell, everything else ends up feeling moot.
We all hope for the best. We hope that giant party they had last weekend was a once-a-year shindig. We hope every door slammed was just from the wind, not an angry spouse. And we certainly pray that the neighbor doesn’t raise a fit about a little BBQ smell, since you’ve been dreaming about having your own fenced-in yard and decked-out patio since you were young.
But, try as you might, you may find yourself living next to, or across from a real piece of work. Someone who stretches and yawns when he collects the paper every the morning, but only occasionally remembers to cinch closed his robe. Someone who prefers to blast his property with floodlights so bright it attracts and immolates mosquitoes from thirty yards. Someone who might mistake your daily activities as threatening and will return the favor in kind.
The stories you’re about to hear are true. They range in severity from mild annoyance to disturbing. Some can be funny, some scary, but nearly all can be avoided if you approach the situation with tact and compassion from the start and throughout.
Blinding Night Light
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the following story is one side’s insistence of the minute nature of the offense. Generally speaking, many neighbor feuds begin when the offending party is incapable of understanding the offense. This makes the offender feel like the neighbor requesting the change is acting unjustly or maliciously.
Massanutten, Virginia is a lovely place to raise a family. The town is built around a lovely ski resort, and can best be described as sleepy. With only 751 households registered in the town, the statistics give a sense of a relaxed lifestyle.
It only takes one other nearby household to turn your world to hell. This is exactly what happened to recent Australian-immigrant, and New York Times bestselling author David Thorne. After moving to the bucolic upstate Virginia, David found his sleep regularly disrupted by his neighbor’s high-powered security floodlight that was, perhaps inadvertently, pointed directly at David’s bedroom window.
David, in his Australian innocence, decided to trespass (not advised) and unscrew the offending high-powered bulb, leaving it in his neighbor’s mailbox with a note explaining his actions. David included his email address for further communications.
Thus began a snarky email chain that will live in neighbor feud infamy.
The neighbor, Justin, was unable to comprehend that his light offended. Justin saw it as a safety measure for the wooded area surrounding his property. David used disarming humor to maintain his stance even as Justin lobbed inconsiderate barbs like, “I can’t help it if some of the light goes across the road.” This is as ignorant as someone saying “once the bullet leaves the chamber, I can’t be held responsible for its decision to travel into your leg.”
David maintained his cool and pressed on with his playful disarming of Justin’s position: “Though unconvinced that blinding local fauna is the best solution, I do understand the heightened need for security living in a wooded area such as the gated community of Massanutten demands.” David then goes on to chide his American neighbor’s fear of raccoons when Australia offers a bevy of deadly animals.
After countless emails and numerous moments of tension, Justin backed down and installed a lower wattage bulb. All was resolved but the two remained cold to each other. At least David can finally get some sleep without needing sunglasses.
21st Century Feuding
Leaving notes is common among initial neighbor confrontations and is often seen as passive aggressive. But now with the internet and social media at our collective fingertips, neighbor feuds are evolving digitally.
Two neighbors in a small town in Michigan engaged in a tit-for-tat last year. Some of which was caught on security camera footage. The twist here is one neighbor’s proclivity with making online comic strips. Bitstrips use simple caricatures of friends, or in this case neighbors, and are frequently shared on Facebook.
In this instance, one neighbor used this platform to ridicule the other neighbor’s mother who died of cancer. A low blow for sure, yet still allegedly not criminal.
This feud was reportedly started over a cat, but that is a faint memory compared to the hell unleashed on neighbor. BB’s shot at garage and shed, fireworks targeting the home, and threats caught on camera are all evidence in an ongoing nuisance investigation.
Perhaps most sadly ironic about this specific feud is these neighbors don’t live directly next to each other. A single mom and her kids are stuck living between the two feuding neighbors. Fox News Detroit interviewed both sides and there appears to be no inroads to an amicable solution in sight.
An Unfortunate End
Many feuds start over a simple misunderstanding, some escalate, and in rare instances a few can turn deadly.
In Knox County, Tennessee two neighbors developed an aggressive feud started over an alleged incident where one family, the Waggoners, were accused of shooting at the Woodby family’s 5-year-old son, house and dog. The accused maintains that this never happened, but that didn’t stop the protective Woodby father from lashing out.
Unfortunately, since neither party was willing to come to the table to discuss the issue, things escalated. The Waggoners’ mailbox was located across the road in front of the Woodby’s family home which created a tense meeting every day when checking the mail.
The Waggoners began videotaping each day’s tense confrontations when grabbing the mail, which the Woodbys took as an aggressive act and responded in kind. Sadly this led to a deadly confrontation where an especially heated confrontation led Kevin Lee Waggoner, the family’s father, to shoot and kill Michael, father of the Woodbys.
There were numerous attempts by both parties to have police resolve the issue, but as is the case with many neighbor feuds, cops can’t always resolve the underlying grievance. In the case of the Waggoners and Woodbys, both sides felt they were the victim, which makes it incredibly hard to reach an amicable conclusion after such a strung out and tense feud.
How to avoid these situations
No one envies a person who is actively at war with their neighbor. It is unlikely that either party enjoys engaging in petty name calling, but it seems many are goaded into the futile pursuit of saving face and besting their adversary.
Is there any way to avoid or deescalate one of these situations before it becomes an embarrassing local news story or worse?
Judging from the stories above, it may help to understand that the other party may feel you either initiated or perpetuated the feud even if you don’t feel the same. Humility and compassion is incredibly helpful in these moments. Tensions are high and our protective instincts kick into overdrive. So it is understandable that when bodily threats are leveled at you and yours, it may be hard to think levelheadedly about the situation.
“People don’t reflect,” says Peter Bruer, manager of conflict resolution and training at a Toronto-based community house. “We don’t have a lot of foresight as human beings.” What might seem like a fight about noisy children in your own backyard might actually be taken as a condemnation on your parenting style. And rarely does a feud stay focused on the initial infraction. Since a feud is born from some form of an unsatisfied resolution, the depth we allow the tension to spiral can get unhealthy.
Bruer laments over the fear many have about walking over to a neighbor’s door and hashing out the grievance. “We’ve been weaned of the capacity to deal with our interpersonal conflicts because we’ve created this enormous state apparatus,” he says. So instead of making peace with a less than ideal situation, we see time and again neighbors tarnish an amicable relationship by escalating too quickly, lashing out, or calling the cops.
There’s a chance that even calling the cops will not effectively mediate a resolution between warring neighbors. For this, Bruer suggests community mediation. “It’s a powerful process because people have to do it themselves. It’s not a Band-Aid that somebody else puts on or the state saying, ‘behave.’”
Feuds begin when communication stops. It is important to remember that being a human is a messy affair. People are far from perfect and emotions tend to cloud judgment. If you find yourself fuming over your neighbor’s inconsiderate disposal of grass clippings over the fence into your yard, it may help to take a moment to understand their position before writing them off.
Approaching with patience and compassion helps unwind some of the tension growing between you and your neighbor. No one honestly wishes to engage in a feud. It is a position we reluctantly find ourselves in to save face. Perhaps by breaking the cycle and willingly accepting terms that might be amicable but not a clear victory for either side can squash a beef before it escalates to a fever pitch.
This, of course, requires both parties to be willing to discuss the transgressions.
If you find you’re being accused of something stemming from a misunderstanding it is easy to shut down communication, but that is exactly when you need an impartial third party to step in and separate the facts from assumptions.
Safety is important, and that is why it is imperative to remain open, honest and compassionate when dealing with these grievances. Insults and threats are childish and end up making you look bad and can make the problem far worse.
Be the bigger human, you’re worth it.